When the regular West Virginia legislative session ended this spring, it was clear that teachers and legislators didn't get what they wanted. The teachers didn't receive the extra raise that Governor Justice promised, and the legislators were unable to strip down and essentially kill the public school system.
The legislature had attempted to ram through a bill to add private, religious, charter schools and ESAs (educational savings accounts) that families could use for any educational purpose). It wasn't passed; it was agreed that more public input was needed prior to legislative action.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, criticized the "small" number of people who had input into the educational forums. 1,600 people attended these discussion groups in eight geographic areas. Additionally, 2,600 comment cards were received, and 17,000 online survey responses were received. State Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine reported that there could be some duplicates among those attending and on-line responses, but that still shows a meaningful segment of teachers, parents, students and others had their say.
Mr. Carmichael isn't impressed with these numbers. He said, "It would be tough to draw conclusions from such a small sampling, a nonscientific sampling. "
Mr. Carmichael simply insists that educational decisions would best be made by the legislature, not the people most directly affected by them. However, if every state elected official agreed to the educational reforms advocated by Mr. Carmichael, that would be a total of 134.
But that will not be the case. There are 59 Republicans in the House of Delegates and 20 in the Senate. If all vote for the Republican plan, then 79 people will be making the choice. Even if a few Democrats join their ranks, it will be less than 100 people. So, Carmichael believes that 100 is a better sample size than 1,600-plus.
The primary results of the statewide study of educational needs as reported by the West Virginia Department of Education included pay raises for school personnel, increased funding for social and emotional student needs, flexibility and incentives for high-performing schools and recruiting more teachers in math and other shortage areas.
The report also said that if charter schools were approved, they should not include for-profit or virtual ones. For those who wonder why those type of schools should be avoided, look no further than Ohio. In 2018, that state had a massive scandal with ECOT (Educational Classroom of Tomorrow). That privately owned for-profit educational organization closed in mid-school year after financial, attendance and instructional irregularities were made public.
It's obvious that West Virginia needs to improve its public schools and student accomplishments, but other than getting parents more involved in their youngster's academic life, there is no other proven route to improving educational success. Because this is not going to happen in this state at this time, we are looking for the magic educational bullet.
In seeking this, legislators want to set up charter, religious, private schools and ESAs which will remove the more capable, affluent and parentally involved children from public schools. Even those who support public education, may defect from it. Perhaps, in retribution for last year's teachers' strike, the legislature again plans to kill, rather than improve, West Virginia's public education.
Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org